Friday, July 27, 2012
Dairy: Disappearing Delights
To the extent that they have not disappeared altogether—and many have, as a drive through New England or New York State’s back roads will attest—dairy farms that survive today are likely to be part of a cooperative into which they sell their milk, whether to be bottled or made into cheese. And like most food products today, milk has increasingly been produced in a manner to make it highly shelf-stable and hardy under a range of transportation conditions. It is ultrapasteurized and ultrahomogenized, as is the cream that has been separated from it at the time of milking.
So the existence of an independent dairy whose cows are pastured and feed on good stuff is a treasure to be thankful for—and to patronize. If you find one, they may even let you buy raw milk direct from the farm (it is illegal to bottle and sell it in most states, but you may be able to get some informally). But even if not, a really good dairy will have superior milk, buttermilk, and heavy cream that has a higher percentage of fat than that from a large producer and, if you are lucky, that has been pasteurized to the legal requirement only, and not homogenized at all.
Here in Rhode Island, we are lucky to have such cream. It’s from Arruda’s Dairy in Tiverton, and I have written about its virtues before. Heavy cream like this is highly perishable: it is a fresh product, for immediate consumption. Be forewarned, the expiration date means what it says. You may be able to blithely keep commercial heavy cream for months beyond expiration, but if Arruda’s says “June 24th” it means June 24th; the next day it will be sour. Don’t push your luck.
This makes the product all the more special than its inherent thick richness already makes it. Somehow, its ephemeral nature—it’s fragile perfection at its peak—and its erratic availability lend a little carpe diem excitement, as well as a little reverence for the simple, to its use and consumption. It whips phenomenally, but even that can feel disrespectful or ungrateful. Pour it on.
This is still plain, but more of a cake than a cornbread, suitable for a simple dessert. It is very good. Serves 6-8.
1 ½ c whole milk
¼ cup thick heavy cream
1 T vanilla
5 T unsalted butter, softened
½ c flour
6 T, generous, sugar
2 T bp
Berries, apples, peaches, or other fruit
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and sugar a 9” square pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the milk, cream, and vanilla. Beat in the butter. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into the prepared pan and bake 20-25 minutes, until lightly colored and just-firm to the touch in the center; it will be starting to pull away from the sides. Do not either over- or under-bake so cake will be moist but cooked. Serve warm or cooled with fruit—sautéed, cooked with sugar into a simple sauce, fresh—with plain or whipped heavy cream, or both.